At college my physics teacher had a big impact on me; she always encouraged questions and was very patient. I really enjoyed the subject, but I never considered it as a career option, initially I wrote it off, as I thought: “What am I going to be, a physicist? Sure, what do they do!?” After further encouragement I investigated it and it turned out they do quite a lot!
For my third-year physics degree presentation, at University College Cork, I decided to find out how information moved around the internet. This led me to fibre-optics, optical communications and the Photonics lab at Tyndall National Institute. I was so impressed with the lab and the people that I did two summer internships and my final year project there. During my final year, I applied to a competitive scholarship for PhD funding from the Irish Research Council and was successful. I finished my PhD in September 2019 and now I am Doctor Kavanagh!
The goal of my PhD research was to open a new telecommunications window at 2µm in order to stay ahead of society’s ever-increasing capacity demands. Many of the 2µm devices represent our first steps into this new wavelength window and, by connecting these first step together into a high-capacity system, I feel as though I am paving the path to the internet of the future!
In terms of career highlights, in the first year of my PhD, my submission was selected for a talk at one of the most prestigious and competitive conferences in my field; the International Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) in the USA. In 2016, and won the “Best Student Paper Award” at the 18th International Conference on Transparent Optical Networks (ICTON) in Italy. That same year I won the IOP Ireland Rosse Medal award. Outside my field, my work has been recognised in the public sphere where I’ve had the honour to been named, by Silicon Republic (Ireland’s leading technology news service), as one of the “6 Rising Stars of Irish Research” and “20 incredible women leading the way to scientific advancement”. Also, in July 2019, I was selected to attend the 69th Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany. It was a great honour and an amazing opportunity to meet 42 Nobel Prize winners and 580 other passionate young scientists.
I want to share my passion for physics with the general public, especially, with young people. During my PhD, I took part in around 150 outreach activities. I take pride in making complex concepts clear, relatable and memorable. I am the 2016 Irish Famelab Champion (a global science communication competition) and an IOP Early Career Physics Communicator Award winner. It is so great to see the IOP encouraging, recognising and valuing the passionate early-career communicators in this way. I’m especially passionate about working with young women and underrepresented or marginalized communities. I want to ignite their sense of curiosity, inspire their interest in physics, and encourage them to consider careers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math). I very much appreciate the effort and research the IOP is putting into improving gender and balance and diversity within physics.
Simultaneously, I want to improve the culture of STEM to be more inclusive of everyone who is curious and interested. I am a strong advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion. I am co-chair of House of STEM (Ireland’s first network for LGBTQ+ people working in STEM) and I have driven several gender equality initiatives. I am the student representative for the IEEE Photonics Society Diversity Oversight committee, an ambassador for the Optical Society, and an award-winning mentor for my work with disadvantaged youth through the Irish Teen-Turn initiative. I have been named as “The Community Builders: 13 women helping women in STEM” by Silicon Republic (Ireland’s leading technology news service). My hope is that we can achieve true equality, diversity and inclusion in STEM, so that people of all genders, races, sexual orientations and diverse background feel included, valued, supported and can reach their full potential within their chosen field. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I was very happy about the IOP involvement in the LGBT+ Physical Sciences Network. It is great to be part of an organisation that welcomes, includes and supports their LGBTQ+ members.
I think the IOP is a fantastic resource, a great advocate for equality and a brilliant facilitator for connecting physicists around the world.
One of my favourite events of the year is the IOP Spring Meeting in Ireland. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to meet other physicists from all around the country working in all sorts of fields, and it’s fun to get to know the other PhD students, too! We can share experiences, resources and advice. I’ve met some great people through IOP events, and I think the connections I have made have helped my career (and my enjoyment of my career) immensely. The most impactful ways that the IOP has supported my career have been in terms of encouraging outreach activities, working towards improving gender balance, supporting LGBTQ+ members and providing networking opportunities.